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Steamboat Magazine

People: Marko Ross-Bryant, Jonathan Bricklin, George Oliphant

12/01/2011 01:00AM ● By Various Authors

Holiday 2011:

People: Marko Ross-Bryant, Jonathan Bricklin, George Oliphant

by Various Authors

Life at the Top

Story by Kelly Bastone

Marko Ross-Bryant's high-speed commute.  Photo by Aryeh Copa.

Steamboat Springs, CO - Most of us admire sunsets. Marko Ross-Bryant studies sunsets. In fact, you could call him a sunset expert. And that habit, beyond his wildest escapades on snowboards and bikes, keeps him more attuned to the outdoors than most of us will ever be. His observations go beyond a glance at Mount Werner’s alpenglow while zipping along in a car or watching the sun melt behind a ridge as a dinner-party backdrop. Most winter evenings, when the rest of us retreat to the valley, Ross-Bryant kicks back to contemplate the day-ending light show from his living room window at the top of the gondola. His year-round home address on the Steamboat Ski Area is enviable: Thunderhead. As the gondola caretaker since 2004 (a role he shares with his sweetheart, Jess Feinerman), Ross- Bryant enjoys a one-bedroom apartment at 9,080 feet. His view spans from Buffalo Pass to Sleeping Giant. For even bigger panoramas, he merely steps outside his door. Many evenings, he climbs Storm Peak and heads to an overlook along the Mountain View trail, where the dusky panorama spans 100 miles or more. Other nights, he surveys the sunset while cruising up the ski area on a snowmobile – his winter commute. Nearly every day of the year, Ross-Bryant, 30, notches time outdoors. Trails lead, literally, right off his porch – but location is only part of it. The real reason he logs so much time outside, savoring sunsets like few of us can, is that he’s uncannily comfortable in all types of weather. Rain and cold don’t deter him. Ross-Bryant confidently steers his snowmobile through howling wind and nighttime whiteouts that would frighten most people into hunkering down in a Hobbit-hole. On chilly spring mornings, when skiers sleep late and wait for the sun to soften the snow, Ross-Bryant grabs his Surly Pugsley (a snobike fitted with four-inch tires) and pedals across the crust, riding the ice as if it were desert slickrock. He’s always first to ride the mountain as soon as there’s enough snow to support the waxed base of his snowboard. The last tracks are his too: Last year he rode the Chutes on the Fourth of July. Ribbons, medals and plaques chronicling Ross- Bryant’s endurance bike races cover one apartment wall. He’s officially retired from all that now, but he still relishes inconceivably long, arduous adventures. “I’ve got the ultra-endurance gene in me,” he admits. If that’s true, the trait skipped his parents. Athletic, but not compulsively so, his parents introduced their son to outdoor sports at an early age. Born in Southern California, Ross- Bryant started skiing at age two. After moving to Boulder at age five, Ross-Bryant rode the bus most weekends to Eldora Mountain Resort, “a brutal hill to learn to ski on,” he recalls. Perched on the Continental Divide, Eldora gets “atrocious winds, and caused me a lot of misery,” he jokes. By 14, he was competing as a trials rider in NOR BA mountain bike races. That lasted until his driver’s license made cycling feel slow. The day after high school graduation, Ross-Bryant swerved from the college path his parents had followed and moved to Steamboat Springs. He lined up a summer grill cook job at Thunderhead, then slid into a winter night dishwasher position at Hazie’s. “That was huge. That’s anybody’s goal, to get a night job,” he recalls, obviously still elated at his good fortune. He met Feinerman while he was working for the resort. The New Zealander was bumping chairs at the Elkhead lift, treating riders to her friendly warmth – and occasionally, her spicy heat. “She’s not afraid to let her angry side out,” Ross-Bryant says, smiling. But her sweet-and-salty personality only attracted him. “I fell in love with her before I ever got to go out with her,” he admits. Feinerman prettifies their apartment with vases of cut flowers and a potted plant that climbs along the pot rack and across the ceiling. She’s also Ross-Bryant’s most dedicated fan and support crew, serving up energizing food during his 24-hour races and bailing him out when a mechanical failure foils some backcountry epic. “She is an integral part of the crazy person Marko is,” attests their friend and adventure cohort, Yvonne Delahunty. Ross-Bryant’s collection of ski area trail maps covers the living room walls – along with a barometer. In winter, he’s an avid reader of the daily weather service forecast discussion. His pulse races when he hears jargon such as “isentropic upglide” and “northwest flow,” heralding the promise of snow on Mount Werner. His mudroom is filled with a meticulously-organized gear collection: Boots on shelves, keys on hooks, helmets balanced on the handlebars of several bikes. “These are my children,” he says, grinning. Living atop the gondola gives Ross-Bryant enviable access to the goods: On powder days, he simply steps out his door to surf untracked freshies covering Heavenly Daze. (At the bottom, he stands in line like everyone else.) He’s seen moose, bear, elk, deer, “everything but wolves and mountain lions,” he says. Of course, being caretaker has its downsides. At Thunderhead, he’s constantly surrounded by his job and fellow employees, so he’s got to leave his home in order to feel work recede. In the winter, he wakes daily at 4:30 a.m. to collect snow report data. Alarms at various on-mountain structures can haul him out of bed and into forbidding weather at all hours. The relative isolation complicates ordering a pizza or enjoying a poker night. But the hardest part is the constant obligation: Enjoying days off requires finding a substitute who’s qualified to operate the gondola and fire system. Vacations are few and spontaneity nonexistent. When the time finally comes for Ross-Bryant to pass the torch to the next caretaker, he predicts he’ll become a rolling stone, quenching his thirst for travel. For now, Ross-Bryant is content to be king of the hill. “It just fits into my lifestyle perfectly,” he says. He loves having his feet in the dirt, his head in the clouds, and his welcome mat at 9,000 feet. “My life is in the mountains,” he says. It’s only fitting that his home should be there too  

Putting a SPiN on it

Story by Margaret Hair

Jonathan Bricklin.  Photo by Elisabet Davidsdottir; used with permission

Jonathan Bricklin knows there are people who would scoff at spending a night out in New York City playing ping pong. He doesn’t want anything to do with them. Bricklin – who grew up in Steamboat Springs, spending his formative years skiing with the Winter Sports Club and watching movies three or four times apiece at the Chief Plaza – hopes to bring ping pong social clubs to the level of pool halls. One in every town.  SPiN, Bricklin’s New York City-based ping pong club with franchises in Milwaukee, Wis., and St. Petersburg, Fla., opened in summer 2009. Its popularity amongst New York’s social elite, along with anyone who wants to come play, happened gradually, if a little strangely. “It was like, one day we bought a ping pong table on a whim, and now that’s all that I do,” Bricklin says. After his junior year at Steamboat Springs High School, Bricklin moved to Los Angeles, to study video editing. Ten years later, he landed in New York, where he and a friend started an editing business. Somewhere along the way, they bought a ping pong table to keep in the office. Weekly ping pong parties drummed up interest in everyone from hipsters to professional football players. Companies including Red Bull and Vitamin Water called for parties of their own. “It strangely started paying our bills; slowly at first, but ultimately it was actually becoming our new job,” Bricklin says. The attention kept coming. Actress Susan Sarandon came to an event and became an active business partner, promoting the club through outlets including “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” With plans to make a documentary about competitive ping pong for late fall 2011 and a new SPiN franchise in Toronto, Bricklin’s dream of putting ping pong in the pop culture mainstream is gaining momentum.   Photo Courtesy of SPin New York

George to the Rescue

Story by Margaret Hair

George Oliphant returns to Steamboat Springs High School, during a recent visit.  Photo by Corey Kopischke.Ten years ago, George Oliphant was on his way up in a commercial production company in New York City. Thing was, the whole ‘sitting in a dark room cutting other peoples’ work’ setup wasn’t working for Oliphant. He attributes that, at least in part, to growing up in Steamboat Springs. Now the host of “George to the Rescue,” a home improvement- meets-wish-granter show syndicated on a growing number of NBC markets, Oliphant is climbing up the TV host ladder. With each step, he looks back on his time in the Yampa Valley. “I find the Steamboat in me every day,” Oliphant says, relaxing in Steamboat Springs last fall with his family: father, Tim Oliphant, an attorney in town; wife, Zoe; and young sons, George, 3, and Bode, 1. “I think the small-town mentality, the support you get, the friendliness — I utilize that every day,” he says, adding that “within the first 10 minutes of meeting me, I always tell people I’m from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.” Oliphant’s break as a TV host came in 2003, when mtvU put on a spring-break-style party in Vail. A since-preschool familiarity with skiing helped Oliphant become the video jockey for that event, and then for the channel. Later, after mtvU, came a succession of broadband TV gigs, often chronicling outdoor adventures. “When they asked me to do some kind of adventure segment, I said, ‘I can totally do that,’” Oliphant says, referring to his time in Steamboat. “It’s in my blood. … I was always out with my buddies on adventures.” The broadband work led to a spot on the behind the-gates New York real estate show, “Open House.” Before long, Oliphant was looking for something more hands-on. His home improvement-oriented “Open House to the Rescue” segment caught on, and a new show, “George to the Rescue,” went into production in July 2010. A children’s hospital center, tornado-damaged school, book donation center (aka two-car garage) and an EMS lounge are a few of the spaces and places George has helped to transform. The popular show has only one drawback…Colorado TV stations have yet to pick it up.